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Battles

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There once was a girl named Janice. She had beautiful flowing hair, eyes that lit up the room, and a smile that could make anyone smile back. She lived with her parents and one sister, and her life revolved around being herself and creating music.

There once was a boy named Malcolm. He was a dark and lonely figure, and rarely smiled until love found him. His father had left when he was young, and his mother had died, so he lived with his brother. His life, to be short, revolved around Janice...

I used to worry about Janice. I wondered why she accepted me in such a way that I felt like I belonged. She was such a beautiful, talented girl, and I was nobody. I was a boy who cried in dark alleys, but had dark, long hair to hide my swollen eyes.

Sometimes I would sit on the front steps of the music café and listen to Janice play, but she never noticed me. It wasn’t until a few years later that she walked out and nearly tripped over me.

“See you next fall,” I muttered.

She smiled and laughed, and despite the fact that I was so depressed and unhappy with my life, I actually smiled too, and by the time I had stood up, we were both laughing.

“I’m Janice,” she had said, sticking out her hand as her eyes searched for mine.

I pushed the hair out of my face and took her hand. “I know,” I said. “I’ve been listening to your music for a long time.”

“I’ve never seen you in there before.”

I shrugged. “Money is hard to come by these days.”

She smiled politely and glanced back at the café. “I’d be more than happy to let you in for free.”

I shook my head.

“Well why not?”

“Because,” I said, pulling up my hood and sticking my hands in my pockets, “I know that if I see you too much, I won’t be able to stay away.”

As I walked down the alley in the light rain, I heard her say, “So don’t stay away.” And that was the minute I fell for her.

As you can imagine, the months went by and I watched her play, because she was right: I shouldn’t stay away. So after about a year or so of this and a regular chat after the show, things started. I was actually happy for the first time in a very long time, and Janice saw it.

There was a time, however, when Janice wouldn’t call, and I never saw her at the café. She wasn’t in school, and it seemed as if she had disappeared off the face of the earth. I didn’t call her for a while, thinking she must be busy, but then it got to the point where I felt the need to check in.

The endless ringing on the other end was painful. With every ring, I knew something was wrong.

“Hello?” the voice on the other line crackled and faded.

“Janice?”

“Malcolm?”

“Yeah,” I breathed.

“Malcolm, I’m so sorry. I--“

“It’s okay,” I said, not wishing to hear any more. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“I’m...not.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked, starting to pace the room.

“Cancer.”

That one word. That one little word that would change my life forever burned into my brain.

“How long?” I whispered.

“It’s been going on for a few months now.”

“No,” I said firmly. “How long? Before you die?”

“Malcolm!”

“I can’t stand to see you dying, Janice! How long?” I shouted.

She sighed. “We’re not sure. The doctor says it could be months, years. All we know is that I’m going to work harder every day to get cured, but there are no guarantees.”

I breathed out and stared at the wall. “I’ll help you get through this,” I said. “I promise.”

“I might be going back to school tomorrow. I’m kind of scared,” she admitted.

“Just remember that you have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have you.”

“I will,” she said. A long pause followed, and I could barely hear her breathing on the other end of the phone. Then, she said, “Oh, and Malcolm?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.”

I remember the next day I came in to school and Janice’s beautiful head was shaved. A short buzz cut sat atop her head, and I went right up and held it in my hands. Her crying eyes pleaded for nothing more than comfort, and so I gave it to her.

Over the weeks, Janice got worse. Her hair fell out more, her eyes became bloodshot and dark, and the chemotherapy was getting the best of her. Eventually, her body shut down. I remember the call I got in second period that day. I was just taking out my calculus book, when the phone rang. She glanced at me and beckoned me over to the phone.

“You might want to go out into the hall,” she said, and all I could think about was what sort of trouble I could have gotten into.

However, when I stepped out into the cool air of the deserted hallway, the voice on the other line caught me off guard.

“Malcolm,” my brother said.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“It’s Janice. She’s--"

“I’m on my way,” I said, cutting him off as I left the phone dangling on the floor and bolted out of school.

The hospital was white and smelled like antiseptic. Bright lights lined the halls, but for some reason, they seemed so, so dark. No windows. Only door after door that held some sickly or dying patient, like Janice...

Janice was unresponsive, sitting on her death bed and staring at the ceiling.

“I want you to know,” I said quietly, “that I’ll be with you even when you’re gone.”

The tears rolled off my cheeks and I roughly wiped them away. Then I broke away from her numb hand and walked down the hall, out the door, and into the sunlight.

In the end, it was I who took that final step and jumped off that building. Janice’s death was too much to bear for me, so I let the wind take me, and the impact didn’t even hurt. I died during the fall, and it was the most free and painless experience of my life. For once, I felt like I could let my emotions go and be invisible.

But now I worry about eternity. Janice survived her cancer. She ended up fighting back, which, for me, makes me feel like an idiot. I didn’t have to jump off that building, but I did, and now Janice lives without me. Sometimes I sit back and wonder just what life is like for her now. I think of her smile, her laugh.

I think of what could have been, but will never be, because I am dead, and Janice is very much alive.



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